Today’s post is a specialist guest contribution to the Finance 2013 series I am running on the blog. It is written by Claire Berry, a career consultant who provides interview training, professional resumes and job applications. She assists executives, middle management, health professionals, graduates and of course mothers from a range of industries to achieve the jobs, career progression or career change they are seeking.
Claire has very kindly offered readers of Planning With Kids a free 15 minute consultation. Simply email Claire at firstname.lastname@example.org to organise a time.
When considering the financial impact of returning to work, it is important to look at the reasons that are driving your decision. Each motivation comes with its advantages and disadvantages and as a family you need to weigh these up and decide what is best for your family.
The Actual Costs
Consider all the costs that returning to work can involve. Will you use childcare, a nanny or ask family members to mind your children and what will this cost? How many children are at school, and do they have after-school care? What will your costs for transport, lunch, work clothes and other expenses be?
These can be big issues for both couples and single parents, especially if you are seeking part-time or job share roles as these often don’t pay as well, particularly if it’s not the private sector. Will your working make the family better or worse-off financially? I know many mothers who just scrape even when budgeting for childcare. Once you have worked out an approximate budget of costs, it is vital to consider the following questions.
Why Do You Want To Go Back To Work? Is It For Sanity, Stimulation or Something Else?
Sanity, a change of scenery and adult interaction are often the main reasons listed by first-time mothers contemplating a return to work. “I felt lonely and a bit bored after having my first child, and working two days a week helped to make me feel useful,” said an audiologist I spoke to recently. “My motivations changed after having my second child, and I felt I had to return to work to maintain my career as I was already pregnant with number three.”
When parents are initially returning to work for these reasons, you may find it worthwhile to be open to new careers or a broader range of roles, even if they are more junior than the roles you have previously held. For some women, their former working lives (pre-children) would not provide the flexibility and work/life balance they might now be seeking. Even where your main driver is stimulation, taking a more junior role is not necessarily a step backwards, especially if you have been out of the job market for a significant time. It’s often best to consider the first role back as a stepping stone to the perfect role.
How Many Children Do You Have?
Obviously, the number of children you have plays a key role in the financial impact of returning to work. One mother in the medical field commented that with her first baby her reasons for returning to work were “Stimulation and money, in that order. With my second child, I’d say money and stimulation, in that order!”
Is this your first child or your fourth? How old are your children? For some mothers, full-time or part-time work may not be financially viable at this point. As a mother of four recently commented to me, “Full-time work would only be viable once the children were all older, and the reality is that my income would not be worth it from a financial or emotional point of view at this time.”
Flexibility and hours are important to consider as overtime can blow the childcare budget. A scientist said “My first job when baby one was 11 months was an evening shift which worked really well at the time. The second baby required flexible day work with a start and finish time that accommodated school hours so I didn’t have to also pay after-care.”
Is It For The Money?
Often parents returning to part-time work will say that salary was relevant to the extent it had to cover childcare costs. A speech pathologist noted, “I call my wage ‘shoe money’ as it doesn’t make a huge difference financially but takes the pressure off and lets us buy a few nice things without guilt.” Other mothers say the income they earn is a nice addition and helps to pay the groceries but not the mortgage.
Others may be returning to work full-time to make a significant contribution to the mortgage or to pay off debt. One female doctor I spoke to recently commented, “When I increased to full-time hours for financial reasons I looked around and went into a role I was doing 10 years ago purely because the money was good (even though the role was not stimulating at all!).” Whilst full-time work may be exactly what you are looking for, it is important to factor in the hours and any toll this may have on your personal health. Using a nearby gym at lunchtime or even going for a half hour walk can do wonders for the mind and body (or at least keep you awake when 3:30pm fatigue hits!).
If you run your own business, the money is often not the only consideration. As a beauty therapist with two children recently commented, “When it is your own business, you’re willing to (and often have to) work unpaid and long hours. I don’t mind this however as I have a strong emotional investment in my business and want to do what it takes to make it work.” If you are considering starting your own business, you need to think about whether you have these extra hours.
Is it To Keep Your Skills Up To Date?
Many parents make the decision to return to work to keep their skills up in view of long-term career. For some this means “taking the pain now with little financial return for the sake of longevity.” For a Paediatrician this meant returning to work to “keep my hand in” but that instead of going back to the demanding hours of a practice, she did some review work for the hospital on a part-time basis to suit her family requirements.
Do You Have Family Support?
Sit down and discuss the logistics with your partner or other relevant people. Who will take care of dinner and other responsibilities while you’re working? Can your partner or helpers do some drop-offs at childcare? “A potential downside of working part-time is that that the full-time home duties can still be yours,” said one mum recently. “You may end up having to juggle a lot more, however the adult interaction, stimulation and extra pocket money are a worthwhile trade off.” An early discussion of practicalities is essential to making a transition back to work successful.
Does Your Workplace Promote A Family Friendly Culture?
Do your childcare hours suit the hours of your role? Will your boss understand that sometimes you will be required to take days off when your children are sick? A journalist recently commented, “My boss is very understanding about taking leave when my kids are sick, however I am reluctant to use sick leave on myself even when I really need it, and I know other mothers whose bosses are not so sympathetic. Better flexibility around this would be terrific.”
Ensure that the workload of your part-time role is what you’ve actually agreed to, and that you’re not actually taking on another days’ work. Be firm that three days really means three days, and not four! Working from home can be an ideal set-up for some, but household jobs and/or children can also make it difficult to concentrate.
Should You Look At New Roles? How Do I Look For A Job?
Finding the perfect job can come in a variety of ways, including through online searches (seek.com, mycareer.com, and industry specific job websites) and in weekly advertisements such as The Australian on Wednesday and My Career in Saturday’s Age, and also through networking.
Set alerts for roles that match your unique skills to be sent directly to your email from recruitment or job search websites to save time. You will be notified of the jobs you are interested in without constantly doing the legwork to seek them out.
Talk to your previous employer. It may be the case that returning to your old role but limiting the hours takes away the pressure of starting a new job and provides the stimulation that many mothers crave.
If possible, take control so that you are actively researching roles before the need arises to return to work. Mothers are great networkers and talking to others in your field is an effective start. Let people know you are thinking of returning to work soon and starting to research different roles. They might recommend that you talk to a friend or tell you when a role comes up at their work.
Ultimately when returning to work, the reasons are key. After weighing up all the pros and cons, it may not be emotionally or financially feasible for you and your family to return to work at this time, or conversely you may find that the stimulation, financial support and/or interaction are worth their weight in gold. Whatever your motivations, I hope you can find it all!
If you are after more information, you can find more at claireberryconsulting.com.au. Claire also has a great newsletter you can sign up to here to find out about upcoming seminars from Claire, news about your industry and tips and tricks. You can find Claire on facebook as well!
Are you contemplating returning to work?